Thursday, October 6, 2011

Anger in America

From Megan McArdle at the Atlantic:
I spent quite a lot of time on the "We are the 99%" website last night and this morning. There's been a considerable amount of carping about it from the conservative side, and to be sure, some of the stories strain plausibility (the percentage of people in the sample who have either taken up prostitution, or claim to have seriously considered doing so, seems rather high, for instance, and as far as I could tell, not a single person on the site had been fired for cause). Many of the people complaining made all sorts of bad decisions about having children, getting very expensive "fun" degrees, and so forth. [Emphasis added--E.M.]
I had to highlight that, because it comes up when you're talking to lots of people, even ostensible Catholics--the idea that one should really only have a child if one's own life plan is fully worked out, one has sufficient savings in the bank, one has enough to pay to raise the child to 18 and send him/her to a good college, etc. It's a subtle anti-child proposition, and it's also a damning indictment of our age, because in previous eras having a child was not the sole privilege of the rich, nor did one have to have a tidy portfolio or a 401K as a prerequisite for procreation. I think of my various ancestors, the ones who farmed and the ones who worked outside of agriculture, and I think: thank heavens none of them ever bought into the pernicious nonsense that is on display here. Sure, there are times when economic concerns may be a perfectly valid reason for a married couple to use NFP, but the notion that many Americans are out of work and hurting right now because of rampant and haphazard fecundity is beyond laughable.

But there's more:
I think it's hard to read through this list of woes without feeling both sympathy, and a healthy dose of fear. Take all the pot shots you want at people who thought that a $100,000 BFA was supposed to guarantee them a great job--beneath the occasionally grating entitlement is the visceral terror of someone in a bad place who doesn't know what to do. Having found myself in the same place ten years ago, I can't bring myself to sneer. No matter how inflated your expectations may have been, it is no joke to have your confidence that you can support yourself ripped away, and replaced with the horrifying realization that you don't really understand what the rules are. Yes, even if you have a nose ring.
Because we all know that most if not all of the people out of work are the olfactory organ adorned recently-graduated creative fine arts or liberal arts types.


I had to stop reading some of the heartbreaking prayer request on a Catholic homeschool board (I still pray; I just couldn't read) about families where suddenly the father was out of work. These were men from all walks of life, working in jobs ranging from construction to education to corporate careers to science and technical fields. Many of them were not young, and many were the sole providers of good-sized families. The economic downturn has not spared any group of people except that group called the 1%--the wealthiest Americans.

And sometimes, in taking any job that came along, these men sealed their career fates. Nobody will call them back or talk to them now, now that they've been underemployed and barely hanging on for months or even years. Their former employers can outsource their jobs or hire H1-B visa workers at a fraction of the cost, and the new healthcare mandates won't affect overseas employees. For the employers, this sort of thing is a win-win. For a man in his forties or fifties who has been scraping by on an insufficient income for far too long, it is heartbreaking.

Some of our elites keep trying to push the idea that the only disgruntled, unemployed or underemployed people are people who really did this sort of thing to themselves. No. Our Ruling Class decided that American workers are just too costly, and that if they want to keep raking in huge stock market increases and massive CEO salaries and the other perks they're entitled to as members of the Ruling Class they had to kick the rungs out of the ladder to success on which far too many of hoi polloi were threatening to stand. Somehow the Average Joes out there were supposed to discern five or ten years ago that owning a home was no longer a good idea, that getting into debt for college was no longer a critical "investment" in one's future but a sucker's shell game, and that the phrase "...doing the jobs Americans won't do..." was referring to any job for which an American can't financially accept slave wages, a 24/7 work schedule, and frequent relocations on the employee's own dime.

The Wall Street protests may be just so much street theater, as many suspect they are. But the anger in America is real.


Anonymous said...

Well said, Erin!

I think these protests that we are seeing are raising the consciousness of working and middle income people as to just how bad things are in our economy. Persistent high unemployment, an increase in the percentage of people living below the poverty line, sharp increase in the use of food stamps all suggest that we are not headed in the right direction.

I work in financial management for high net-worth individuals, and, trust me, when I tell you that these folks are not suffering! They are still buying their expensive condos, winter homes in Florida, expensive cars, trips, etc.

Also I would note that as far as Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Boston are concerned, we are now seeing quite different groups joining the protests: nurses (here in Boston anyway), labor union members, college students, etc.

Last Friday I saw up close, the demonstration at Bank of America here in Boston. Let me say that it was extremely well-organized and impressive.


Charlotte said...

Perhaps all these things are true (I need to mull it over), but my issue is that groups like this are also usually aligned with a bunch of social stuff that I can't agree with as a Catholic/Christian.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte as a Catholic Christian, our Faith exhorts us to investigate as far as possible TRUTH! Never the lesser of two evils, but to seek truth. One might suspect that any number of 'groups' might support all sorts and types of issues for which an individual might feel difficult to align themselves never mind circumspect. Possibly, one should advocate for one single issue they feel is wrong and state their case.

Except for my faith in catholicism, groupthink has always been difficult for this individual to swallow.


JMB said...

I live near NYC and most people I know work on Wall Street. The idea that Wall Street is populated soley by Hedgefunders and Masters of the Universe is just plain false. The majority of men and women who work on Wall Street are middle office/back office/accounting/financial service types. Many are solidly in the middle class (and in the NYC metro area, middle class is a 250K income). So I find this "protest" a bit off putting. Who are they protesting? My back office neighbor who settles FOREX trades? My sister who negotiates credit default swap agreements? My old self who was an art history major and was able to get some real business experience working on the street? The street is responsible for a lot of peoples livlihood in this area. And if it were to collapse, as the protesters seem to want, a lot of ancillary businesses would go down the tubes with it: the courriers, the admin assistants, the HR folk, the restaurants and take out places, the train and ferry operators, the receptionists, the doctors and dentists who cater to the lunch time crowd.

Have their been abuses on the Street? Yes, of course there has been. But there's also abuses in the gov't and other private and public sector jobs. 18 years ago, when I worked there, our traders used to joke about screwing Freddie, Fannie and Sallie because they (GSEs) had to buy the stuff. If the gov't wasn't feeding the flame, none of this would have happened.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Erin, would you consider running for governor of Wisconsin? I'll take my chances on your pro-life priorities to get what you've outline here... and we abolished the death penalty around 1850, something to do with a man who was hanged who turned out to be innocent.

I must admit, my ability to support myself in reasonable comfort the past two years or so is greatly aided by the fact that I have no dependents. I do spend a bit on my little brother, but that is nothing compared to what his mother spends supporting him and his siblings.

On the other hand, the idea that children should be based on strict budgeting... that's just wierd. It is partly, I suppose, based on the fact that so much more of life is based on things that cost monthly payments. If I had a child, and no medical coverage, how would I keep them healthy and alive?

Red Cardigan said...

Well, Siarlys, that would be a pretty interesting feat for someone who lives in Texas. :) But I'm flattered.

These days, state children's medical programs do a lot to help cover children whose parents can't afford insurance. I have no problem with these sorts of safety-net programs, and I suspect most people don't.

The older I get, the more I see employer-based health insurance as a kind of chain that keeps people tied to corporate wage slavery. But my concerns about totally government-provided care are based in reality, too. I think there needs to be a middle way: insurance that's optional for routine care coverage, and, perhaps, government-funded coverage for catastrophic or traumatic illness, pregnancy and childbirth, and some end-of-life care (I'm thinking the sort that pays for things like pain management, hospice care, etc.).

Let people decide if they'd rather carry coverage for a routine doctor visit, or pay the doctor in cash for that visit. Make sure everybody is covered for the times the ambulance comes screaming up to the ER. Let employers keep providing things like tax-free health care savings accounts which could offset the routine visits and help pay for prescriptions, eye and dental care, etc. Something like that, anyway.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Hey, people move across state lines to run for office all the time. Think of Alan Keyes, Hillary Clinton... and then aim higher.

I agree on the shape of medical insurance. After a few years with an employer-chosen plan, I realized that I would prefer a low-premium, high-deductible plan, and a health savings account (the kind that rolls over). Its not for everyone, but we need lots of options.

As for children -- many of the costs are fixed, so premiums would be high, but there are so many benefits to all kids being covered... let's just make that a social cost we all contribute to.

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Erin, I would suggest you do some research as to how the whole real-estate bubble started. Many Wall Street firms had to "bundle" a lot of insecure investments together because the federal government (led by Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Sen. Barney "Fife" Frank of Massachusetts) essentially forced lending institutions to give discounted mortgages to families that couldn't afford them. "Bundling" those investments was supposed to reduce the sizable risk. Obviously, that didn't work.

I wouldn't be surprised if this whole "Occupy Whatever" movement is a deliberate attempt by Democrats to deflect attention away from their own disatrous policies, typified by Dodd and Frank.

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

On another note, I wonder when Catholics will get the courage to "Occupy the Vatican"?

Probably when Luther becomes Pope...

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Here's an article that explains how the Federal government (especially Sen. Dodd and Sen. Frank) holds the ultimate blame for our current economic problems:

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Why Joseph, I've seen bumper stickers that read "Ex-Lutherans for Christ." That is not about people returning to Rome, but people who abandoned a Lutheran church for some other evangelical Protestantism, as you have abandoned the Catholic Church.

I think we all need to pay more attention to the writings of Nicolaus of Cusa (a cardinal, no less), who argued that God's unknowability is the most profound and illuminating thing humans can know about God, leading him to ask the Creator of all things if in His kindness He might moderate the persecution, which raged more than usual on account of diverse religious rites. Yes, it is unfortunate that the Roman Catholic Church did not, in 1453, embrace that teaching, but that is no excuse for any of us today to set it aside.

Now, as to how we got into this financial mess. you have (conveniently) overlooked that private lenders, particularly the notorious Countrywide, were going to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac saying "we don't need you any more, you take the toxic stuff we are writing along with the better stuff, or we can just cut you out of the business."

The sin of Dodd and Frank is that in writing reform legislation, they listened to the big boys of finance and stopped well short of reinstituting Glass-Steagall, which had put a firewall between people's savings accounts and speculative investments. Or, are you the kind of Christian who believes that if you invest money and make money without producing anything along the way, God is "blessing" you for your piety? That used to be called "usury," and it used to be a sin.